The news is abuzz with talk of revolutions. We are witnessing a period in history where people are harnessing their voices and mobilizing in huge numbers. Newer technologies are showcasing events on a much larger stage, and eager eyewitnesses are spawning a generational shift in how history gets reported. Far removed from news desks and coiffed anchors, the grit of the struggle and its human faces are indelible.
Journalism itself is changing. Read Shel Israel’s post on braided journalism or Ulises Mejias’ post on the dangers of branding a revolution. For a full recap of the situation at present, read this Mashable post.
But it’s important to remember that while the medium may be shifting, the universal message is not. Revolutions still bloom according to certain conditions. So how do we re-tool our idea of revolutions based on this new model, while minding the pillars of nation building? How can we ensure the circumstances are right for pushing our own revolutions? Here are things we can learn from Tunisia, Egypt, and Iran.
-Say it Out Loud, Not Louder: The act of saying something out loud actualizes an idea. Sometimes you find that few agree, but often the resentment and discontent that has been building within you has been building in those around you. You don’t have to shout it, tweet it, or otherwise claim ownership over it; rallying will make people afraid to align with you in the beginning. You just have to say it to the person next to you. And mean it. Word will get around. Foster Unrest. Seek the straw that will break the camel’s back. Agitation is contagious.
-The First Thing They Take is Your Voice: Centralize your message and organize your movements. If a larger force holds the power balance, they will make moves to silence you. Whether it’s the airwaves or the Internet, your efforts to communicate to the outside world and your constituents will be hamstrung. You must be prepared to pass notes, use code, and find novel ways to use new technologies to your advantage. You should seek out people with tech-savvy and broad social ties who are willing to act as intermediaries. And ensure your messages and instructions are simple and direct enough to be understood from the lowliest foot-soldier to the top of your command structure. A bad game of “telephone” can ruin you.
-The Revolution WILL be Televised – Remember Vietnam: Why did the Vietnam War cause such a controversy at home and abroad? It was the first war that was openly televised. Pictures don’t lie. Unlike scripted tv and carefully timed press releases, new technologies and savvy amateur reporters are capturing a raw “I am here” factor that no media conglomerate can even touch, much less spin. People tend to dismiss events that happen a world away because they aren’t close enough to “see it” and professional news is sanitized. But when we “see” individuals play out great human struggles through heartfelt stories and experiences, it touches us, changes us, and brings the revolution right to our doorstep. Humanity is each of us. That is reality. Capture it.
-Mind Your People: Violence begets violence, or remember the French: Yes, the proletariat will rise if you oppress them long enough, but when you cast a wide-enough net of derision, everyone is suspect and heads will roll. Create any kind of resistance movement and you’re going to rile folks who just like smashing things and reveling in lawlessness. Revolutions in the Ukraine, Georgia, and Russia have been successful while remaining relatively bloodless, but if there is a breakdown of basic services, there will be looting and riots. Keep track of your people, take steps to keep them safe, and arrange safe passage and lodging before anything goes down. But most importantly, make sure your people are solid. Don’t let passion and violence sweep them up and dismantle your efforts.
-Is This Really What we Want? Or, It’s all Fun and Games Until You’re Starving: You better be ready to ride it out. Plan as far through the chaos to the end and be prepared to hunker down. You may have lit the match, but you have no idea how big the fire is going to get. Food, supplies, water, first-aid, and basic sanitation will allow you to weather the storm and endure long after the puppet regime has fallen. True faith in your cause will carry you far beyond that. But you better be sure.
-Power Abhors a Vacuum – Remember Iran circa 1979: Everyone is united for the push to topple, but you’ll find the status-quo returns more often than not. And often with an iron fist. Revolutions expose dissent and usually provide a clear trail of conspirators for the next power-monger to root out and suppress. Make sure you have a clear plan for replacing the power vacuum and ensuring that the absent throne isn’t filled by another tyrant.
-You Must Agree to Rebuild the System: if you found out someone in your company was stealing millions from you, you’d fire them outright, and all their cronies. You wouldn’t let them try and help rebuild the damage. So don’t let your revolution get hijacked by the old guard. Revolution implies a complete re-structuring and total commitment to change. If it’s broke, you better be willing to fix it.
-You are the Curators of History: You are the lens. History is no longer rote recital out of history books, it’s a living, breathing collective experience of the human condition. We are no longer observers of history after-the-fact, but active participants in its design. As new curators of this world history, we have a duty to steer our course according to basic human rights and just action. At every turn, you must seek the truth and be fearless to expose it.
The old saying goes that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Examine your chain – command, supply-line, information – and make sure each link is operating well. What you skimp on or gloss over will come back to haunt you at the worst possible moment. Keep yourself contained and ordered in the beginning and when you make your move, do so without hesitation. Revolutions don’t just happen, they are a culmination of pressure that has been building over time. Understand these patterns and you will be on your way to becoming a revolutionary.